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If We Talk Posted by on Aug 31, 2020 in Grammar

If you ever tried coding, you may have come across ”if-then-else” (if X happens then Y should happen, else Z should happen). If you haven’t, no worries – you can probably get along for a long while without any if-clauses… But if I were you, I’d still take a look at the little word in Norwegian. 😉

Hvis du går til venstre… (Free image from Pixabay; no copyright.)

To make an if-clause, use the word hvis [viss] (if):

Hvis det snør… (If it snows…)
Hvis du vil… (If you want to…)
Hvis ikke det regner… (If it doesn’t rain…) < Be aware of the word order here! 🙂

Add a main clause to the ”if”, and you’ve got a full conditional sentence:

Hvis det snør, tar vi trikken. (If it snows, we take/we’ll take the tram.)
Hvis du vil, kan du spise middag med oss. (If you want, you can eat dinner with us.)
Hvis ikke det regner, vil de male hytta. (If it doesn’t rain, they’ll paint the cabin.)

Please note that when the if-clause comes first, it’s followed by a comma, as is also commonly the case in English (as I gather!) The two clauses may also be reversed, in which case the comma isn’t used in Norwegian (but look how some of the words are reshuffled in the process):

Vi tar trikken hvis det snør.
Du kan spise middag med oss hvis du vil.
De vil male hytta hvis ikke det regner.

The above phrases have been constructed for this post and may feel a bit artificial, as there is also another Norwegian word for ’if’ that is commonly used in this position – dersom. For example: Vi tar trikken dersom det snør.

And oh! if by ’if’ you mean ’whether’, you can only use yet another word – om: Hun visste ikke om hun skulle gråte eller le. (She didn’t know whether she should cry or laugh.)

Conditional phrases can get tricky when you describe hypothetical situations (just think about the verb form in If I were you)… This is not the time to go into great detail – I’ll just give you a couple of examples:

Hvis jeg var rik, (så) ville jeg kjøpe/kjøpt en bil. (If I were rich, [then] I’d buy a car.)

Dersom vi husket alt, hadde det vært enkelt å lære seg språk. (If we remembered everything, it would be easy to learn languages.)

A cool feature of Norwegian is that the word ’if’ can be dropped altogether from the start of a sentence (the verb then takes its place):

Hvis du er sulten, kan du ta deg ei lefse. (If you’re hungry, you may take a lefse [Norwegian soft bread/pancake].)
Er du sulten, kan du ta deg ei lefse.

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About the Author: Bjørn A. Bojesen

I was born in Denmark, but spent large parts of my childhood and study years in Norway. I later returned to Denmark, where I finished my MA in Scandinavian Studies. Having relatives in Sweden as well, I feel very Scandinavian! I enjoy reading and travelling, and sharing stories with you! You’re always welcome to share your thoughts with me and the other readers.